Serviceable but toothless look at the poster children for brainy hip-hop.
Fronted by African-American culture pundit Chuck D and current reality-TV star Flavor Flav, Public Enemy is arguably the most important unit ever produced by the hip-hop nation. (Rolling Stone included them on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.) The group’s singular ability to combine politically conscious lyrics and funky beats, all tied together by Chuck’s clarion voice and Flav’s goofball onstage and in-studio clowning, is why they are one of the few rap groups whose 20-year-old music sounds and feels as if it could have been created today. Yet up until now, aside from Chuck’s two hit-and-miss memoirs, there have been no Public Enemy books—as opposed to at least 15 titles about Kurt Cobain and/or Nirvana, to name one of the only bands of that era equally important within its own genre. Was Village Voice arts editor Myrie’s study worth the wait? Sort of. He had full access to Chuck, Flav and the rest of the crew, to the brain trust at Def Jam Records and to virtually everybody else who played a role in the group’s artistic and cultural success; all of them were forthcoming and generous with their stories and observations. Unfortunately, the book is almost completely rooted in fact: Here’s what happened in the studio…here’s what happened on tour…here’s the next album, etc. Myrie offers very little historical context or analysis, which seems a particularly grievous oversight in the first-ever group portrait.
Discerning fans will want a more in-depth, wide-ranging book, but that may not happen until Public Enemy hangs up the microphones. In the interim, this genial survey will have to suffice.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)